Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Indianapolis 500 Got A Little More Interesting And Can Still Get Even More Interesting

I had originally intended for this post to dismiss the "Garage 34" idea and don't worry, that is to come. But some major news dropped last night of the return of 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner, 1995 CART champion and 1997 World Drivers' champion Jacques Villeneuve to the Indianapolis 500 in 2014, driving a third car for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports and now this post has expanded to more than just "Garage 34" but unified technical regulations and who should play the Carb Day concert and national anthem.

Let's start with the "Garage 34" idea, though.

First, I love the idea of promoting innovation at the Indianapolis 500. Second, I hate the idea of giving it an exemption.

The difference between this and the "Garage 56" entry at Le Mans is the race organizer, Automobile Club of the West (ACO) invite who is to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fifty-five is the traditional amount of invitations for the 24 Hours of Le Mans but if the ACO wants to invite one more or fifteen more of twenty less then they can. Making the race is entirely different than Indianapolis where has most frequently been the fastest thirty-three cars make the race and that's how it should be.

For a fan base that wants to see bump day return to a little over half a dozen cars fighting for the final spot, expanding the grid even by one entry is the last thing we want to see. Don't get me wrong, we all want to see innovation but not one innovative car on the grid but a handful of cars using hybrids, diesel, ethanol, hydrogen, peanut oil, whatever.

And we want innovative cars to earn their spot in the race like everyone else. Fans love the STP Turbine and Lotus 56, wedge turbines because they were different but also competitive. They were threats to win the race. People don't like the Eagle Aircraft Flyer driven by Ken Hamilton because, although it was innovative, it didn't have a snowball's chance in hell to even make the field.

We don't want one innovative car out there dominating by six laps and we don't want one innovative car out just because it the "Garage 34" entry but is running 25 mph off the pace.

Innovation has to be encourage for all competitors. If Chevrolet wants to run a hybrid, allow them. If Honda wants to run a hybrid, allow them. If Volkswagen wants to enter a turbo-diesel engine that fits into the specifications of the rulebook, why say no? If Ford wants to run their EcoBoost engine package, welcome them with open arms. Don't limit innovation to one entry for one race of the year. Open it to as many as possible over the course of the entire season.

On to Jacques Villeneuve. I think it is great he is returning especially after we all thought the likes of him and Montoya had outgrown IndyCar. It's hard to believe Villeneuve is only going to be 43 years old when May rolls around. He was successful at such a young age but after winning the World Drivers' Championship in 1997, he did nothing for the next decade. He went over ten and a half years between winning races in his career. He won the 1997 Luxembourg Grand Prix (at the Nürburgring) and didn't win another race until he was a third driver for Peugeot at the 2008 Le Mans Series race at Spa-Francorchamps.

In his defense, he moved to BAR when they were entering Formula One and never got another top seat after leaving Williams but Villeneuve could be labelled the Stephon Marbury of motorsports. He had a great career early on but then went around the world doing obscure events such as touring cars in Argentina, the Speedcar Series (a failed stock car series based in the Middle East), Stock Car Brasil as well as cameos in NASCAR races playing the role of Dr. Evil.

(Honest to God Jacques, please grow your hair back. Some people can pull off bald, you can't. I hope Hair Club or Bosley is your sponsor. Quick sidebar: My grandfather always got a kick when Derrike Cope was sponsored by Avacor and because his career went about ten years longer than it should have gone).

But, as happy as I am for Villeneuve returning to run the Indianapolis 500 the likes of Conor Daly, Sage Karam, JR Hildebrand, Luca Filippi, Sam Bird, James Davison, Martin Plowman, Bertrand Baguette and Bryan Clauson need to be getting opportunities in IndyCar. They are the future. Not Villeneuve, not Montoya. Hell even Oriol Servià and Townsend Bell deserves more opportunities despite being closer to 40 years old than 30 years old because they have shown they are quick and can hold a candlestick to anyone else on the IndyCar grid. Eventually these younger drivers are going to have to break through and get opportunities from teams with decent rides.

The good news is this Villeneuve announcement bodes well for getting thirty-three cars for the Indianapolis 500. There is some worry over Panther Racing as they didn't get one of the twenty-one leader circle positions and that is understandable (Update: Also because John Barnes is suing IndyCar, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and the other parties involved in the loss of the National Guard sponsorship). Going back to what I posted last week, the very early, very-very-very-very-optimistic Indianapolis 500 entry list had thirty-five cars on it. I still feel thirty-five cars is very optimistic.

If you have read this blog frequently, you know I think the last generation Dallara chassis should be grandfathered in for the Indianapolis 500 in efforts to increase the entry list and encourage bumping. IndyCar should also look into forming technical alliances with other series such as Super Formula. The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters and Super GT series are running unified technical regulations this season and they are looking to do a combined race in 2015.

Wouldn't IndyCar benefit from that type of partnership? Super Formula is running a brand new Dallara chassis in 2014 and have nineteen cars on their grid. If you are IndyCar, reaching out to Super Formula and seeing if they can come together and run unified technical regulations can't hurt. If it means Honda brings over five or six more cars over for the Indianapolis and inadvertently allows Toyota to return to Indianapolis with a handful of cars and allows for IndyCar to return to Motegi where a combined race could be run between the two series, who would be opposed to that?

Getting a dozen drivers from Japan to attempt to make the race wouldn't be a bad thing, especially if they are bringing Le Mans winners (Loïc Duval and André Lotterer) and former Formula One drivers (Vitantonio Liuzzi, Kazuki Nakijima, Narain Karthikeyan and James Rossiter) as well as drivers who have made a career in Japan (João Paulo de Oliveira, Naoki Yamamoto, Ryō Hirakawa and it could bring Hideki Mutoh back to the Speedway). And for those nervous about drivers coming over with limited oval experience, look at what Tora Takagi, Kosuke Matsuura, Mutoh and Sato have done in the Indianapolis 500. All held their own and all were quick around the Speedway.

Finally, we know Jason Aldean will be doing a concert the Saturday night prior to the Indianapolis 500 at the Speedway. I really don't care about who performs Carb Day but if you are going to have a concert, don't been dragging out some hair band from the 1990s. It may not be the music I normally listen to but go after an acts such as Pharrell Williams or Justin Timberlake. They have talent, will draw people to the track and aren't getting DUIs or dancing like dopes every other day. And to have them stay through out the weekend, pair the Carb Day concert with the honor of singing the national anthem.

I covered a lot in this post and to be fair, here is a recap:

Forget the "Garage 34" nonsense. Encourage innovation from all the manufactures and teams all season long.

It's great to see Jacques Villeneuve return to Indianapolis but more has to be done to allow younger drivers to get seat time.

Want to increase car counts? Once again, consider grandfathering the last-generation Dallara in to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and why not try to form a technical alliance with Super Formula?

For the Carb Day concert and Indianapolis 500 national anthem, give a deserving, talented act such as Pharrell Williams or Justin Timberlake a call because they will balloon the Carb Day attendance to a level that hasn't been seen in years.

Anyway, isn't it great that we are talking about drivers competing in IndyCar and not who should be CEO or on the board of directors? It's refreshing.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Earnhardt, Jr.'s Victory A Reminder Of His Talent

It doesn't feel like Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s first Daytona 500 victory was ten years ago. Nor does it feel as the third-generation NASCAR star is going to be turning 40 years old this October but both statements are true.

Other facts that are true about Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s second Daytona 500 victory last night are it was his first win in fifty-five races, dating back to Michigan in June 2012. It is Earnhardt, Jr.'s first points-paying restrictor plate race win since Talladega in October 2004, when he was driving the #8 red Budweiser Chevrolet, a number-color-sponsor combination that was as arguably as well known in NASCAR as his father's black #3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet.

Ten years ago, Jimmie Johnson had yet to win a championship, Brad Keselowski was still a few weeks away from making his Truck series debut, Toyota had just entered the Truck series and Rockingham had a place on the schedule. A lot has changed in a decade.

For ten years it seemed everyone would look at Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as what could have been. He surely had the talent as was seen with back-to-back then-Busch Series championships, winning the All-Star Race as a rookie to winning six wins in 2004 including a Daytona 500 victory. After that career year though in 2004, everything seemed to be going down hill. He struggle with crew chief changes in 2005, winning only one race and not making the Chase, recovered slightly in 2006 but the divide between him and his stepmother Teresa became the headline and ultimately would lead to the downfall of the team his father founded, Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

The move to Hendrick Motorsports was going to be the springboard for Earnhardt, Jr. and that seemed highly likely as he start 2008 with wins in the shootout and duel. That wasn't the case though. He would win at Michigan that first season but wouldn't finish in the top ten in points until his fourth season with the team and after two seasons finishing outside the top twenty in points. He wouldn't win another race with the team until four years later, once again at Michigan.

The shadow casted over Earnhardt, Jr. was large from the beginning. His father's death turned the shadow into an expectation to pick up where he left off. Race wins were suppose to be a given for him. Championships would pile up. But the expectations were more than just on-track successes. It was to be his father. Intimidate, move guys out of the way, create enemies, drive the #3. The expectations were unreasonable.

If anything, the poor results were good for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. because it made people realize he was never going to be his father. The expectations to match seven titles, seventy-six victories, the nickname, the rivalries, the legacy were gone.

The expectations are now to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. What does that really mean? I don't really know. Running consistently at the front. Driving clean. Working with teammates. Taking a poor qualifying run and turning it into a top ten.

The most startling fact to me from last night is Earnhardt, Jr. hasn't won multiple races in a season since 2004. In his first five seasons, he won fifteen races. In his next nine seasons, he has amassed five victories but Earnhardt, Jr. has been turning it around. Last year, he set a personal best for with twenty-two top ten finishes and had five runner-up finishes, including in the Daytona 500. He finished fifth in the standings, only one point back of Kyle Busch for fourth.

After watching last night, Earnhardt, Jr. appears to be a mixture of where he was ten years ago with a new sense of confidence. He appears to be happy driver, more than capable of running at the front of the field but now he seems to know exactly what he and his team has to do to reach the mountain top. Granted, the format has changed to where Earnhardt, Jr. is a sure lock for the Chase and he won't drive another meaningful race until Chicagoland on September 14 but expect Earnhardt, Jr. to pick up where he left off at the end of 2013. Constantly at the front and constantly in position to get victories.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

2014 Daytona 500 Preview

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opens tomorrow with the 56th running of the Daytona 500. Nine previous winners and seven Daytona 500 rookies take part. With the Unlimited and the two duel races already in the books, here are a few key points as we look forward to tomorrow.

Is This Toyota's Year?
And more specifically Joe Gibbs Racing. Toyota has never won the Daytona 500 and Joe Gibbs Racing haven't won the race since the famous "Dale and Dale Show" with Dale Jarrett beating Dale Earnhardt to the line in 1993. Toyota has amassed sixty-three victories since entering the Cup series in 2007 with Joe Gibbs Racing being responsible for fifty-four of those victories.

Gibbs Racing became the first team to ever sweep the duel races in one year when Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin won Thursday night and Hamlin is looking to become the first driver ever to sweep Speedweeks by winning the three Cup Series events, the Unlimited, Duel and Daytona 500. While Kenseth has two Daytona 500 victories, Hamlin has only one top ten finish in the race while Kyle Busch only has two.

Seven other Toyotas will take part tomorrow. AJ Allmendinger is the top non-Gibbs Toyota in fifteenth with Clint Bowyer starting twentieth but dropping to the back of the field after wrecking his primary car in the duel race Thursday night. Three rookies are driving Toyotas and they are Cole Whitt, Alex Bowman and Parker Kligerman. The other two Toyotas are Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip, both are starting outside the top thirty.

Can Austin Dillon Match His Qualifying Performance?
The defending Nationwide Series champion won his first career Cup series pole position last week and now Dillon looks to get his grandfather Richard Childress his third Daytona 500 victory. Dillon is the fifth Childress driver to win Daytona 500 pole. Dale Earnhardt finish second from pole in 1996 but ever since then, the results have gotten worse for Childress pole sitters as Mike Skinner finished twelfth in 1997, Jeff Green finished thirty-ninth in 2003 and Jeff Burton finished thirty-second in 2006.

The last Daytona 500 pole-sitter to win the race was Dale Jarrett in 2000 while only three of the last ten pole-sitters have finished in the top ten.

Can Jimmie Johnson Repeat?
No one has won back-to-back Daytona 500s since Sterling Marlin in 1994 and 1995. Johnson's win in the race last year was his first top twenty-five in the six Daytona 500 starts. Prior to that his last top twenty-five was his 2006 win. History isn't on his side.

Who Will Be The Surprise?
For a little over a decade, each Daytona 500 has had a surprise driver in the top ten. 2002 was Geoffrey Bodine in third. 2003, Mike Wallace finished ninth. 2004, Scott Wimmer finished third. 2005, Scott Riggs finished fourth and Kevin Lepage finished ninth. 2006, Ken Schrader finished ninth. 2007, Mike Wallace finished fourth and Joe Nemechek finished ninth. 2008, Reed Sorenson finished fifth. 2009, AJ Allmendinger finished third in his first career Daytona 500. 2010, Jamie McMurray won the race after never finishing better than twenty-sixth in his seven previous Daytona 500 starts. 2011, Trevor Bayne won in his second career start, David Gilliland finished third and Bobby Labonte finished fourth in what is his most-recent top five finish. 2012, Paul Menard finished sixth after starting thirty-seventh. Last year, Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley started in the final two positions on the grid and finished ninth and tenth respectively.

This year, Josh Wise starts eleventh, he has one career top twenty finish. Landon Cassill starts eighteenth while Terry and Bobby Labonte both raced their way into the field and will start twenty-fourth and twenty-sixth. This will be Terry Labonte's final Daytona 500 start.

Who Can Break Through For Their First Daytona 500 Victories?
Terry Labonte will start his thirty-second Daytona 500 and he has never won the race. His brother Bobby will be starting his twenty-second Daytona 500 and is in the same position. Tony Stewart will be making his sixteenth Daytona 500 start and is still looking to break through. Kurt Busch will start his fourteenth Daytona 500 and has six top ten finishes in the race, including three runner-up finishes. The only other drivers who will be making at least their tenth Daytona 500 start tomorrow and not have won the race are Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.

A Chase Spot Is On The Line
With the Chase-format change, the winner of tomorrow's race is in prime position to make the Chase. Will that change how drivers approach the race? Will a middle of the field team use strategy to put themselves in position for not only a Daytona 500 upset but a possible championship later this year?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Duel Race Results

Matt Kenseth won the first duel race. It is his second career duel race victory and Joe Gibbs Racing's seventh duel race victory.

Kenseth held off late charges from Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne. Marcos Ambrose finished fourth with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounding out the top five.

Josh Wise took a surprise sixth place finish and will start thirteenth on Sunday. Aric Almiolra finished seventh ahead of AJ Allmendinger, David Gilliland and Ryan Newman rounding out the top ten.

Tony Stewart finished eleventh ahead of rookie Cole Whitt. Greg Biffle finished thirteenth with Danica Patrick in fourteenth and Alex Bowman rounding out the top fifteen and being the final driver to race his way into the Daytona 500.

However, Kevin Harvick failed post-race inspection with a track bar infraction. He has been disqualified from the race one and will have to rely on either his speed from qualifying or a provisional to make the race. Brian Vickers has been promoted into the Daytona 500.

Pole-sitter for the Daytona 500 Austin Dillon finished nineteenth in race one.

Denny Hamlin became the fourteen different driver to win the Clash/Shootout/Unlimited and then go on to win a duel race and with Hamlin's victory, Joe Gibbs Racing became the first team ever to sweep the duel races. The sweep means Chevrolet streak of winning at least one duel race ends at thirteen consecutive years.

Hamlin held off the four Chevrolets of Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Brian Scott.

A late race accident shook up the field and who raced their way into the Daytona 500. Trevor Bayne finished sixth ahead of Kyle Larson. Despite getting into the accident, Martin Truex, Jr. finished eighth ahead of Landon Cassill and Clint Bowyer finished tenth despite flipping upside down.

Jamie McMurray finished eleventh with Terry and Bobby Labonte coming from over thirty seconds back to race their way into the Daytona 500 and finish twelfth and thirteenth respectively Casey Mears round out of fuel with two laps to go but because of the accident Mears was able to get up to fourteenth position. Carl Edwards crawled to the line to finish fifteenth while Jimmie Johnson was the final driver to race into the field in sixteenth position despite having his car totaled.

Brad Keselowski had a pit lane speeding violation and a flat tire cost him a shot at victory and he will qualify by his time from Sunday. The other three drivers to make the Daytona 500 on their qualifying speed are Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Joey Logano and Michael Annett.

Because all past champions raced their way into the field, seven drivers will use provisionals to make the Daytona 500. Kyle Busch will be the first of them followed by Kevin Harvick after his disqualification from race one. Reed Sorenson and Justin Allgaier make up row twenty with Parker Kilgerman, Michael Waltrip and David Ragan rounding out the field.

The six drivers who failed to make the Daytona 500 are Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Ryan Truex, Morgan Shepherd, Eric McClure and Dave Blaney after he withdrew prior to the duel races.

Daytona 500 Starting Grid (*- Drivers going to the back of the field):
1. Austin Dillon
2. Martin Truex, Jr.*
3. Matt Kenseth
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Kasey Kahne
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Marcos Ambrose
8. Kurt Busch
9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
10. Paul Menard
11. Josh Wise
12. Brian Scott
13. Aric Almirola
14. Trevor Bayne
15. AJ Allmendinger
16. Kyle Larson
17. David Gilliland
18. Landon Cassill
19. Ryan Newman
20. Clint Bowyer*
21. Tony Stewart*
22. Jamie McMurray*
23. Cole Whitt
24. Terry Labonte
25. Greg Biffle
26. Bobby Labonte*
27. Danica Patrick*
28. Casey Mears
29. Alex Bowman
30. Carl Edwards
31. Brian Vickers
32. Jimmie Johnson*
33. Brad Keselowski
34. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
35. Joey Logano
36. Michael Annett
37. Kyle Busch
38. Kevin Harvick
39. Reed Sorenson
40. Justin Allgaier
41. Parker Kilgerman
42. Michael Waltrip*
43. David Ragan

Morning Warm-Up: 2014 Budweiser Duel

For the first time ever, the qualifying races for the Daytona 500, the duel races will take place under the lights. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET from Daytona International Speedway.

The pole-sitter for the 2014 Daytona 500 Austin Dillon will lead the grid to the green flag on in race one. Greg Biffle will start second ahead of Dillon's Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. starts fifth as he looks for his fourth duel race win and first since 2008. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will start fifth, rounding out the top five for Roush Fenway Racing. 

Richard Petty Motorsports Fords of Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola start sixth and seventh with fellow Ford driver Joey Logano of Team Penske starting eighth. Logano will go to the back of the field after being involved in an accident in Wednesday practice that involved six cars. Matt Kenseth starts ninth as he looks for his second career duel victory with Kasey Kahne rounding out the top ten. 

Kyle Busch starts eleventh ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick. Patrick will go to the rear of the field after an engine change. AJ Allmendinger starts fourteenth. Allmendinger did not have a ride for the race last year. Reed Sorenson rounds out the top fifteen. 

David Gilliland starts sixteenth. The next three drivers, Parker Kligerman, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers will all go to the rear of the field. Kligerman and Vickers are going to back up cars after being involved in that practice yesterday, Stewart because of an engine change. Cole Whitt is twentieth position on the grid. 

Michael McDowell starts twenty-first in race one and finished ninth last year in the Daytona 500. Josh Wise joins him on an all-Ford row eleven with Joe Nemechek and Alex Bowman on an all-Toyota row twelve. Dave Blaney was schedule to take part in this race but had to withdraw from the event after being collected in the accident in Wednesday practice. 

Race Two:
Martin Truex, Jr. starts on pole with another Roush Fenway Ford driver starting second, Carl Edwards. Brad Keselowski starts third ahead of Jeff Gordon. Gordon leads active drivers with five duel race victories, tied for third all-time with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Only Dale Earnhardt (12) and Cale Yarborough (6) have more than Gordon. Paul Menard rounds out the top five but will drop to the back after being in that accident in practice yesterday. 

Brian Scott starts sixth in a one-off for Richard Childress Racing. Defending Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson starts seventh. His only duel win came in 2010. Casey Mears starts next to his former Hendricks Motorsports teammate in eighth. The Toyotas of Michael Annett and Clint Bowyer round out the top ten. 

Denny Hamlin starts eleventh and has one duel win to his name. Hamlin was the first driver to ever win a Cup Series race for Toyota when he won the second duel race in 2008. Kyle Larson starts twelfth with 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne starting thirteenth. Kurt Busch starts fourteenth with Justin Allgaier rounding out the top fifteen.

Landon Cassill starts sixteenth ahead of two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip. Eric McClure is eighteenth ahead of 2010 Daytona 500 Jamie McMurray. David Ragan starts twentieth.

The Labonte brothers make up row eleven with Terry leading Bobby. Ryan Truex and Morgan Shepherd round out the field. 

Fun Facts:
A Chevrolet has won at least one of the duel races every year since 2001. The last time Chevrolet was shut out was 2000 when Ford swept the race with Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd. 

Ford has won four of twenty-six duel races since Elliott and Rudd swept in 2000. Elliott Sadler won two of those races driving for the now defunct-Robert Yates Racing (2004 and 2006). Kasey Kahne won in 2010 driving for Richard Petty Motorsports and Matt Kenseth won Jack Roush his first duel race in 2012.

Toyota has three duel wins, all by Joe Gibbs Racing, all in the second race. Hamlin won in 2008 while Kyle Busch won in 2009 and 2013.

There are thirteen past duel race winners competing this year (T. Labonte, Gordon, B. Labonte, Waltrip, Earnhardt, Jr., Stewart, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Kahne, Kurt Busch, Kenseth and Harvick).

Nine time has a duel winner gone on to win the Daytona 500 (Fireball Roberts 1962; Cale Yarborough 1977 and 1984; Bill Elliott 1985; Bobby Allison 1988; Sterling Marlin 1995; Dale Earnhardt 1998; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 2004 and Matt Kenseth 2012).

Of those nine occasions, six were race one winners (Roberts, Yarborough in 1984, Elliott, Allison, Marlin and Earnhardt, Jr.).

Thirteen times has the Clash/Shootout/Unlimited winner gone on to win a duel race (Buddy Baker 1979, Darrell Waltrip 1981, Neil Bonnett 1983, Dale Earnhardt 1986, 1991, 1993, 1995; Ken Schrader 1989; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 2003 and 2008; Tony Stewart 2007; Kurt Busch 2011 and Kevin Harvick 2013).

Of those thirteen occasions, seven were race two winners (Waltrip, Schrader, Earnhardt all four times and Earnhardt, Jr in 2003).

A driver has never won the Clash/Shootout/Unlimited, a duel race and Daytona 500 in the same year.

A rookie has won a duel race twice. Johnny Rutherford won the second qualifier in 1963. It was his first career start and because at that time duel races counted as points-paying races, it is Rutherford's only career NASCAR victory. Thirty years later, Jeff Gordon won the first duel race, however the duel races have been non-points events since 1972.

Along with Rutherford, two other drivers have the duel races be their only career victory. Earl Balmer won the second race in 1966. Though it wasn't a pay race in 1973, Coo Coo Marlin, father of two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin, won the second race that year. Marlin never won a points-paying NASCAR race and never had a second-place finish in his NASCAR career. His best official finish was third on three occasions (Texas World 1972, Nashville 1973 and 1975). Mike Skinner won the second duel race in 2001. While Skinner never won a points-paying Cup race, he did win two exhibition races in Japan. He won at Suzuka in 1997 and the final international exhibition at Twin Ring Motegi in 1998.

The only time the duel races were rained out were in 1968. The Daytona 500 starting grid was set by time that year. That was the first scheduled year for 125-mile qualifiers after being 100-mile races from their inception in 1959.

One team has never swept the duel races in one year. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What We Learned From IndyCar Media Day

Tuesday was IndyCar Media Day from Orlando, Florida and some nice tidbits came to light.

1. IndyCar is close to a title sponsor and it is reportedly going to be Verizon.

2. Allen Bestwick is going to be the lead commentator for the ABC IndyCar races.

3. There will be two more races to feature standing starts in 2014. Joining the first races of the Houston and Toronto doubleheaders as races with standing starts will be Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

That was pretty much it. No big, breaking full-time driver news or Indianapolis 500 one-offs. No other new partnerships with sponsors. No announcement of who is playing the Carb Day concert or something else like that.

I understand why IndyCar did media day at Orlando more than a month before the season. Orlando isn't that far from Daytona, there is nothing to report on the Monday and Tuesday after Daytona 500 qualifying and there is a boatload of reporters down there. It makes sense but I feel if you are going to have a media day, don't have it be flat and that's what today was.

Sure the news on standing starts is nice and confirming Bestwick is nice but all we have is still rumors of a title sponsor (which could fall apart at the last moment, not that it will but...) and nothing else that is even going to turn some heads. Everyone thought we were going to hear about Indianapolis 500 qualifying last month and still have no idea what that's going to look like and I think the series officials have no idea what it is going to look like either.

If there was a race this weekend or a major announcement (i.e. A title sponsor), then this media day would be worth a damn but if it was just to talk to drivers and series officials, reporters can do that either A. At the first official preseason test at Barber a month from now as they were doing for the last couple of years or B. Do it the Friday morning before the first practice at St. Petersburg because there isn't a demand for IndyCar news and you can get away with it.

This sounds like I am bashing IndyCar. I am, a little. It feels like IndyCar is the little child trying to get attention but everyone is focused on the other sibling who has a big performance in the school play.

IndyCar wants attention? Start your season earlier. Testing at Sebring for the 200th time in the last three months and renting out part of the Amway Center for a day isn't cutting it.

I am sorry this sounds negative. I am glad we are getting standing starts at a few more races and any one willing to spend money on title sponsorship is great news but is the narrative ever going to change? It hasn't worked for the last decade. While NASCAR has been changing everything too frequent, IndyCar hasn't been doing enough. Don't get me wrong, IndyCar doesn't have to change the on-track product, they don't have to completely make over their drivers, just get them out in the spotlight every now and then.

And they don't need to exaggerate interviews from former drivers to make it a news story for a week and a half. All I have to say is act naturally. Don't try to be goofy, don't try to be controversial, don't conform to what everyone else is doing. Just act natural.

Why The Daytona Duel Races Are A Favorite

The Daytona duel races are two of my favorite races of the year. They aren't always entertaining, don't always matter (especially when 35 drivers were locked in) but they are my favorite.

Despite the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Dakar Rally and a plethora of other events around the globe in January and early February, the duel races signify the start of the weekly habit that is watching motorsports. I know some groan when NASCAR season starts and over the last decade, my youthful exuberance has become more of displeasure with NASCAR's constant, childish "Look at me! Look at me!", attention-whorishness, mountains-out-of-molehills marketing strategy.

But Thursday that is put aside, temporarily.

When I was in grade school and before NASCAR pushed the start of their season back a week because they were afraid the NFL lockout would have pushed the Super Bowl back and cause a conflict, the duel races fell on the Thursday prior to President's Day weekend. I was fortunate enough where my school would make President's Day a four-day weekend and on a few occasions it was a five-day weekend starting that Thursday.

Most Duel-race Thursdays I spent with my grandfather. Watching races was the bond we shared and loved. Watching races with him became "If I could save time in a bottle" moments. Everything was perfect. All Earthly cares were set aside. We would get a pizza or have hot dogs, rip open bags of pretzels and chips, have an endless flow of soda and an arrangement of ice cream to select from later. As a ten-year old you could not ask for anything better.

The cloudless days in Daytona would brighten up a basement as a half-foot of snow and a below-freezing wind chill awaited outside. You couldn't help but daydream about when the seasons would change.

I've always liked the duel races but always been disappointed in the duel races. I loved the idea of racing your way into the field but when 35 drivers were locked in, they didn't really matter. Even today, there is no risk if you have a poor result on Thursday with all the provisionals and locking in the four fastest not to race in. I hate the past champions provisional. Sorry Terry Labonte, what you did eighteen years mattered eighteen years ago. You haven't won a race in eleven years and were barely competitive week-in and week-out then. You shouldn't get an exemption and no one else should, not even defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

I want everyone to be on pins and needles going into their duel race. I can live with locking in the front row, but the remaining 41 positions, you got to earn. I always felt NASCAR should take the top twenty drivers from the duel races along with the front row and then have one final, 10-lap sprint with all the drivers who didn't finish in the top twenty of their duel race fight for the final starting position in the Daytona 500.

Now I know what you are thinking, that final 10-lap sprint won't always be exciting and I understand that. On a paper, a race between Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek, Josh Wise, Michael McDowell, Morgan Shepherd, Terry Labonte and Eric McClure sounds awful but the LCQ at the Eldora Truck race last year was one of the highlights of the entire NASCAR season and involved Norm Benning and Clay Greenfield. NASCAR has been making diamonds out of turds for years, that example Daytona 500 LCQ grid would be no different.

Some years, a Daytona 500 LCQ would be really scarce. This year, an LCQ would only have seven drivers, last year would have only had three but listen to who the three drivers would have been: Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne and Mike Bliss. A former Daytona 500 winner, former Nationwide Series champion and former Truck Series champion... and only one would have made the Daytona 500.

Here are some other examples of what-could-have-been Daytona 500 LCQ grids:
2012- David Gilliland, Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Menard, Landon Cassill, Kenny Wallace, Tony Raines, David Reutimann and J.J. Yeley.
2011- Andy Lally, Michael McDowell, David Gilliland, Steve Wallace, Joey Logano and Casey Mears.
2010- Bill Elliott, Robert Richardson, Jr., Reed Sorenson, Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton, Jeff Fuller, Aric Almirola, Dave Blaney, Mike Wallace, Norm Benning, Sam Hornish, Jr and Boris Said.
2009- Robby Gordon, David Ragan, Greg Biffle, John Andretti, Matt Kenseth, Bill Elliott, Mike Skinner, Derrike Cope, Norm Benning, Ryan Newman, Scott Speed, Mike Garvey, Geoffrey Bodine and Boris Said.
2008- Sterling Marlin, Elliott Sadler, J.J. Yeley, Kyle Petty, Kurt Busch, Carl Long, Jeff Burton, Jacques Villeneuve, Jamie McMurray, Stanton Barrett and Dario Franchitti.
2007- Bobby Labonte, James Hylton, Kyle Petty, Jeff Green, Ward Burton, Reed Sorenson, David Ragan, A.J. Allmendinger, Dave Blaney, Robby Gordon, Elliott Sadler, Eric McClure, Kirk Shelmerdine, Scott Riggs, Brian Vickers, Mike Skinner, David Reutimann, Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Twice the driver who went on to win the Daytona 500 would have had to race in the LCQ. Kevin Harvick may not have won the 2007 Daytona 500, forever changing the course of human history. That thrilling finish with Mark Martin may never have happened. Martin may have had a cake walk to win the Daytona 500 as the field crashed behind him. He may have ended his career right then and there. In 2009, Matt Kenseth may have been one of at least two Roush cars being sent home. Where would his career be had he failed to make the Daytona 500 rather than won it?

Of course, you would have to allow these teams to have a backup car ready to go if they have to run the LCQ because of an accident and I am ok with that. I would rather see that then the recently introduced Chase-format. It would the pressure on the drivers to keep their nose clean and avoid any trouble. It would put pressure on the crews to nail that one pit stop. It would put pressure on the guys in the engine department for everything to hold together for 150 miles so they don't have to take their chances running another 25.

The 10-lap LCQ will probably never happen. Why? Because NASCAR lives in a false utopia. They are so afraid of reality. Afraid of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart or Brad Keselowski not making a race.

That is why the past champions provisional and provisionals exist. Richard Petty failed to qualify for a few races. He didn't fail to qualify because he was running a ten-year old car or because he picked the short straw or chose tails over heads. He failed to qualify because he wasn't fast enough. Because he wasn't The King anymore. He hadn't been The King for about five years. But some couldn't deal with that reality. I say tough to those who can't accept it. Somedays the driver you idolize will clearly be human. Nothing will go their way and they may end up going home because a small-team with an unheralded driver busted their butts to make a race. If this was any other sport where a big-name athlete failed and a underdog rose to the occasion, we would accept it. In NASCAR though, it'd be the end of the world.

I am surprised how long it took NASCAR to move the duel races to primetime. When the 2006 races were delayed to the evening because of rain, I though for sure the following year NASCAR would move the races to primetime. I was wrong by eight years. But NASCAR may have waited a year too long to move the duels to prime time. They are going head-to-head with the Olympic coverage and while figure skating and bobsleigh and ski jumping may not your cup of tea, it is for about 23.5 millions each night.

But I look forward to the duel races. It may not be ideal but the weekly grind of the motorsports season is finally here.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Plowman To Run Indianapolis Races For AJ Foyt Racing

This first Indianapolis one-off of the 2014 season has been announced and I can't say many would have predicted this one.

2013 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 class winner and 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 driver champion Martin Plowman will drive the #41 Al-Fe Heat Treating Honda for AJ Foyt Racing at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indianapolis 500 this May. Plowman made three IndyCar starts in 2011, all on road and street courses. He finished 18th and Mid-Ohio, 12th at Sonoma and 11th at Baltimore. Plowman ran two full-seasons of Indy Lights and accomplished a victory at Mid-Ohio in 2010 as well as seven top-fives and nineteen top-tens in twenty-eight starts. In his two Freedom 100 starts, Plowman finished 22nd after an accident on lap six and 5th.

Since his last start at Baltimore, Plowman has made a career in sports cars. In 2012, he ran for Conquest in the ALMS LMP2 class. He won two races with teammate David Heinemeier Hansson and finished second in the LMP2 class standings. In 2013, he moved to OAK Racing in the WEC where he teamed with another former IndyCar driver, Bertrand Baguette and Mexican Ricardo González. They finished seventh overall at Le Mans, good enough to win the LMP2 class by a lap. They would pick up another victory at the rain-shortened Fuji round and won the LMP2 title by nine points.

Plowman will join Takuma Sato in the #41 car which was driven by Conor Daly last year in the Indianapolis 500. Daly started 31st and finished 22nd in his first career Indianapolis 500 start. Since reunification, the best finish for the second Foyt entry at Indianapolis is 16th by AJ Foyt IV in 2009. Should Plowman qualify, he would become the 750th different driver to start the Indianapolis 500.

Currently, twenty full-time teams have been announced for the 2014 season and it is believed another four full-time entries will be confirmed before the season opener at St. Petersburg on March 30th. Jack Hawksworth is testing for Byran Herta Autosport this week. Hawksworth won three races in Indy Lights in 2013 and finished fourth in the championship.

Tentatively, Plowman is the twenty-fifth entry for the Indianapolis 500. KV Racing is investigating running a third car but are looking for a veteran driver. Despite having their 2013 season cut short, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has had plans to run the 2014 Indianapolis 500 since last May. Kurt Busch is "70 percent sure" he will attempt to make his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2014. The 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion completed rookie orientation for the race last year driving for Andretti Autosport. The door hasn't closed on Busch driving for Andretti in 2014 but since Andretti Autosport has moved to Honda engines, Chip Ganassi Racing, KV and Ed Carpenter Racing have all emerged as possible destinations for the Nevadan.

Ganassi Racing also has an eye on running Sage Karam for the Indianapolis 500. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing has a partnership with Cutters Racing Team as CuttersRT attempts to field a car by donations from fans. Buddy Lazier plans on returning in 2014 with his family run team. Dragon Racing will not be competing full-time in IndyCar in 2014 as the teams plans on running Formula E later in the year but do plan on running a car at Indianapolis.

Other teams that ran an additional entry in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 are Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, Dale Coyne Racing, Panther Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

The very-early, very-very-very-very-optimistic Indianapolis 500 entry list would be the 24 full-time entries, Plowman, Dreyer & Reinbold, Busch at either Andretti, KV, Ganassi or Carpenter with likely Andretti, KV and/or Ganassi running a car even if Busch isn't the driver, the CuttersRT/SFHR entry, Lazier, Dragon, Schmidt, Coyne and RLLR.

That would be 35 cars entered for the Indianapolis 500 and once again is very-very-very-very-optimistic prediction. Don't hold your breath.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

NASCAR Season Opener

President's Day weekend is here, which mean NASCAR season comes along with it. Tonight is the Sprint Unlimited exhibition event for pole winners from the 2013 season and past winners of this event which was formerly known as the Busch Clash and Budweiser Shootout.

Eighteen drivers are scheduled to take part in this year's 75-lap race. The format and starting grid are still to be announced as this year's race allows the fans to select three components of the race.

Fans have three choices for length of each segment. Each option involves a 30-lap opening segment but with "option A" being a 35-lap second segment on 10-lap final; "option B" is 30-laps followed by 15 and "option C" is 25-laps with a 20-lap finale.

The three fan choices for starting grid are lining up by career poles totals, 2013 Drivers' championship standings and final practice speeds.

Fans will also choose how the starting order of the final segments will be determined. Their options are fastest race laps over the first two segments, most laps led in the first two segments or by the order of cars off pit road after a mandatory pit stop.

I'll be honest, I like the race formerly called the Shootout. It's suppose to be a fun exhibition. The fans choosing the format is a little over the top, especially when the results to the first two components are announced until two hours and one hour before the race respectively. I am all for fan involvement but this is a little over the top.

To really make this interesting, I always felt their should be eliminations after each segment. They did that in the All-Star Race for a few years and it was fun because you didn't have drivers dogging it, which has now become a staple in any restrictor plate race and the All-Star Race. Since this year's race features eighteen cars, I would eliminate four drivers after each segment, that way it's a ten car dash in the end.

Even though fans will be selected the the starting grid, we already know each starting grid.

If fans select "option A," the starting grid will look like this (Career pole totals and all-time rank in parenthesis).

1. Jeff Gordon (74 poles, 3rd all-time)
2. Ryan Newman (51, 9th)
3. Jimmie Johnson (32, tied for 21st)
4. Terry Labonte (27, 25th). Yes, Terry Labonte is competing in this event. There are even start-and-park drivers in an exhibition. Thanks NASCAR!
5. Denny Hamlin (17, 42nd)
6. Kurt Busch (16, 43rd).
7. Tony Stewart (14, T-46th)
8. Kyle Busch (13, T-51st)
9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (13, T-51st)
10. Carl Edwards (13, T-51st)
11. Matt Kenseth (11, T-58th)
12. Jamie McMurray (9, T-64th)
13. Joey Logano (7, T-71st)
14. Kevin Harvick (6, T-77th)
15.  Brad Keselowski (3, T-104th)
16. Marcos Ambrose (3, T-104th)
17. Danica Patrick (1, T-146th)
18 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (1, T-146th)

Should a fan for some reason see the grid lineup as if qualifying was rained out, here is "option B" (position in 2013 standings in parenthesis).

1. Jimmie Johnson (1st)
2. Matt Kenseth (2nd)
3. Kevin Harvick (3rd)
4. Kyle Busch (4th)
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (5th)
6. Jeff Gordon (6th)
7. Joey Logano (8th)
8. Kurt Busch (10th)
9. Ryan Newman (11th)
10. Carl Edwards (13th)
11. Brad Keselowski (14th)
12. Jamie McMurray (15th)
13. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (19th)
14. Marcos Ambrose (22nd)
15. Denny Hamlin (23rd)
16. Danica Patrick (27th)
17. Tony Stewart (29th)
18. Terry Labonte (42nd)

If you'd like to see the starting grid set by final practice from yesterday, then "option C" is for you.

1. Denny Hamlin
2. Jamie McMurray
3. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
4. Kyle Busch
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Carl Edwards
8. Marcos Ambrose
9. Tony Stewart
10. Kurt Busch
11. Joey Logano
12. Danica Patrick
13. Jeff Gordon
14. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
15. Terry Labonte
16. Matt Kenseth*
17. Ryan Newman*
18. Jimmie Johnson*

*- Note: Kenseth, Newman and Johnson did not participate in final practice and are lined-up by their first practice speeds.

I kind of feel like this race should be worth a Chase position. What's the point of watching a NASCAR race if the winner isn't getting a Chase position? Same for the Duel races. Why should I watch those if the winner isn't making the Chase? Same with the All-Star Race and the last-chance qualifier for the All-Star Race, the Sprint Showdown. Why should I watch those if their winner don't make the Chase? I think Chase positions would make those races worth more.

Realize I am being sarcastic in that last paragraph but also realize that I am also getting into Brian France's brain. What if every race was worth a Chase spot? Tonight's race would become a bonus chance for these eighteen drivers. Oh boy if Brian France reads this the wheel in his head will be churning so fast that he might explode. Imagine if tonight's race was worth a Chase spot. The TV rating would probably spike upward. If I was Fox, I would be begging NASCAR to make every race, worth points or not, worth a Chase spot, especially since Fox has all the non-points races and that would makes those five races more valuable.

Some fun facts for tonight's race:

Three different manufactures have won the last three Shootouts/Unlimiteds. Kevin Harvick won for Chevrolet last year with Kyle Busch winning for Toyota in 2012 and Kurt Busch winning for Dodge in 2011. Ford has a chance to make it four different manufactures in four years but the brand hasn't won a Shootout/Unlimited since Dale Jarrett won a stunner in 2004. There will be five Fords in this year's race (Keselowski, Ambrose, Stenhouse, Jr., Logano, Edwards). Those drivers have combined for zero Cup wins at Daytona and only two Cup restrictor plate victories, both at the hands of Brad Keselowski.

There are nine former Clash/Shootout/Unlimited winners in the field. Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon both won the even when it was the Busch Clash. Labonte in 1985 and Gordon in 1994 and 1997. The Busch brothers, Hamlin and Johnson are all looking to become the tenth different driver with multiple wins in this event. Stewart and Harvick look for their fourth win which would put them solely into second all-time in victories in this event, two behind Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt, Jr. looks to join Stewart, Harvick and Jarrett as three-time winners of the event.

Amazingly, a Richard Petty-owned car has never won this event. A reason for that is Petty-owned cars never put alcohol-related sponsorship decals on their cars and since the cars didn't have the proper decals when Busch/Budweiser was the sponsor, Petty cars did not compete.  Richard Petty ran the event once in 1980 but another Petty-owned car would not competed again until 2009. Marcos Ambrose has a shot not only to get The King his first win in the event but become the first foreign-born driver to win the race.

The only Toyotas in the field are from Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs Racing has five victories in this event.

This is the first Clash/Shootout/Unlimited to ever take place on February 15th. This is the first Cup race on February 15th since the 2009 Daytona 500, which was won by Matt Kenseth after rained ended the race on lap 152.

Tomorrow will be Daytona 500 qualifying and we will know the front row for NASCAR's biggest race as well as the starting order for the Duel races. Stay tuned folks.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Simona de Silvestro To Sauber F1

After four seasons in the IndyCar Series, Simona de Silvestro will drive for her home team, the Swiss-based Sauber F1. De Silvestro will be an 'affiliated driver' and will test the car at Barcelona after the Spanish Grand Prix and depending on the results of said test, will earn a Super License,  which would allow de Silvestro to participate in Friday practice sessions and pursue a race seat in 2015.

In her four IndyCar seasons, de Silvestro recorded her career-best finish second at Houston this past October and achieved her career-best oval finish at the following race weekend at Fontana where she finished eighth. The Swiss driver accomplished her best career finish in the points standings in 2013 by finishing thirteenth ahead of IndyCar race winners Ed Carpenter, Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal. Overall, de Silvestro ends with one podium, three top-fives and fourteen top-tens.

If you follow IndyCar closely, you would expect some are not handling this well. To them and their extreme pessimistic mindset which only sees the glass as empty (it's never half empty because for them that is too much of a good thing), this is seen as a loss for IndyCar and I am talking about a loss of a driver but a chalk it up in the L-column, beat down.

Don't get me wrong, it's going to suck not seeing de Silvestro on the grid especially after the progress she had made in 2013 but we all saw this coming. I even foreshadowed it last week when I paired de Silvestro with The Beatles' song "She's Leaving Home."

But it's not the end of the world or a loss for IndyCar. De Silvestro was always going to take that Sauber offer. She is twenty-five and isn't going to get this opportunity again. She had to take it. And you would have too if you were in her shoes. As selfish-minded IndyCar fans can be, they would be crazy to think any driver is going to struggle looking for a ride and funding for said ride when five-sixths of the grid is full and you would be making your third team change in five seasons when there is a Formula One test driver slot open and could lead to a race seat the following year.

And there was nothing IndyCar could do to stop her from leaving. What could they have done? Pay her $10 million? Buy her a seat at Penske or Ganassi? You really think that would have solved all of IndyCars problems because it would put a female driver in a seat capable of winning a race and would get more people to turn their tubes to NBCSN and ABC or drop $80 for tickets to a race? Don't be so naïve. There was nothing IndyCar could have done.

This was an individual with an offer on the table making a professional decision to move on. It happens everyday across the world in many professions that aren't motorsports. It's part of life. She is a driver. The beauty about motorsport is you don't have to be tied to one series for your whole career. She wasn't tied to being an IndyCar driver for her whole life. Just like every driver out there, has the capability to move to a different discipline whenever they feel the time is right. If opportunities dry up in one series, there is always another where the door may be open. If you accomplished everything possible in one series, there is always another to conquer.

De Silvestro's move is encouraging as more and more women in enter motorsports. It shows progressive especially with Sauber as de Silvestro joins the team with the only female team principal in Formula One, Monisha Kaltenborn. American open-wheel racing has had great success with female drivers. The last time there wasn't a full-time female driver in IndyCar was in 2004. Nine seasons with one full-time woman driver is what many series would die for but IndyCar has been fortunate with the likes of Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher, Katherine Legge, de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz and Milka Duno running full-time (Ok, Duno isn't one the series is going to be promoting that loudly). Let's not forget Pippa Mann, who has made six starts in that time frame.

IndyCar finds themselves in an actually unusually position of not having a full-time woman competing but More Front Wing's Steph Wallcraft puts it best in her commentary saying no one should panic. IndyCar shouldn't just throw a female driver into a full-time seat in hopes of garnering attention. However there is a lack of female talent in the Road to Indy ladder series. Last year, a total of two women competed in the three lower-tiers of the Road to Indy, both in Pro Mazda with Argentine Julia Ballario running Mid-Ohio and Trois-Rivières and Filipina Michele Bumgarner at Houston. A few promising drivers have moved on. Shannon McIntosh ran two seasons in U.S. F2000 but has moved on to ARCA. Ashley Freiberg ran one season of Star Mazda in 2012 but has moved to the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and won the season opener with co-driver Shelby Blackstock at Daytona last month but even after winning, Freiberg has nothing set for the rest of 2014.

I am sure there are a few teenage girls in karting who dream of racing on a top level someday but dreams alone aren't enough. Last week I told you to brace yourself for de Silvestro's departure. This week brace yourself, because it may be a while before IndyCar sees it's next full-time woman driver.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Entry List News Around The World

Today was a busy day in sports car racing as two major entry lists were announced while a full-time IndyCar entrant was announced yesterday.

Let's start with sports cars and the FIA World Endurance Championship. Thirty-one entrants have been announced with nine entrants in LMP1, split between the sub-classes H and L, seven LMP2 entries, seven GTE-Pro and eight GTE-Am.

In the sub-class for Hybrid LMP1 cars (LMP1-H), the three big players Audi, Toyota and Porsche each have two cars entered. Tom Kristensen and Loïc Duval return to defend their world championship and are joined by Lucas di Grassi after the retirement of Allan McNish. The #2 Audi remains the same with André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler.

Toyota shifts their driver line-up sightly with Stéphane Sarrazin joining Alexander Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima in the #7. Nicolas Lapierre will move to the #8 and joins Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi.

Porsche two cars will be numbers 14 and 20. The #14 will be driven by Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Neel Jani while the #20 will feature Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley.

In the privateer, non-hybrid LMP1-L subclass features a return of Rebellion Racing who will run two cars. Their driver line-up is incomplete but we know Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld will be in the #12 and Mathias Beche will be in the #13. The other LMP1-L entry is the #9 Lotus T129 of former Formula One driver Christijan Albers.

LMP2 will not see a return of the champions OAK Racing as they have moved to the United SportsCar Championship. Strakka Racing will run a Dome-Nissan with drivers Nick Leventis, Jonny Kane and Danny Watts. Millennium Racing enters two Oreca-Nissans with Fabien Giroix in the #22 and Stefan Johannson in the #23. G-Drive Racing returns with Romain Rusinov as one of their drivers but as a Morgan-Nissan instead of an Oreca chassis.

The Russian SMP Racing will run two Oreca-Nissans. The #27 will have Sergey Zlobin, Maurizio Mediani and Nicolas Minassian as drivers and the #37 features an all-Russian driver line-up of Viktor Shaitar, Kirill Ladygin and Anton Ladygin. KCMG will run the #47 Oreca-Nissan with Matthew Howson as a driver.

GTE-Pro features three Ferraris, two Aston Martins and two Porsches. Gianmaria Bruni will defend his championship in the #51 458 Italia GT2 with Toni Vilander as a teammate. Davide Rigon will drive the #71 Ferrari. The defending ELMS GT champions, Ram Racing will run the #52 Ferrari with Matt Griffin as one of their drivers.

After falling short of the title in 2013, drivers Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke will be split up for 2014 with Turner in the #97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE and Mücke in the #99. Porsche will have French drivers Patrick Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki in the the #91 911 RSR and Marco Holzer in the #92.

Ferrari will field four GTE-Am entries. Defending GTE-Am champions 8 Star Motosports return with Enzo Potolicchio driver the #90 Ferrari. Luís Pérez Companc and Stephen Wyatt have been announced as drivers of the #61 and #81 AF Corse Ferraris respectively. Ram Racing will run the #53 Ferrari with Johnny Mowlem, Ben Collins and Mark Patterson.

Aston Martin will run two cars again in GTE. David Heinemeier Hansson will join Paul Dalla Lana in the #99 Aston Martin. Kristian Poulsen has been announced as a driver of the #95 Aston Martin.

Christian Ried returns to Proton Competition to driver the #88 Porsche 911 RSR. ProSpeed Competition enter WEC with driver François Perrodo in the #75 Porsche.

24 Hours of Le Mans Entry List
The thirty-one WEC entries will all compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and will be joined by an additional twenty-five entries.

There will be only one additional LMP1 entry at the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans. That will be the #3 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Marco Bonanomi and Filipe Albuquerque, which will also compete in the WEC round at Spa.

Ten additional cars are entered in LMP2. Notable entries are the #24 Sébastien Loeb Racing Oreca-Nissan with René Rast listed as a driver. OAK Racing will have two cars, the #35 Morgan-Nissan of Alex Brundle and the #33 OAK Racing Team Asia Ligier-HPD of David Cheng. Greaves Motorsport will return with the #41 Zytek-Nissan and Tom Kimber-Smith listed as a driver.

GTE-Pro has twelve entries. Corvette and SRT Viper will return each with two cars and Aston Martin will run a third car. Bruno Senna is listed the driver of the #89 Vantage GTE. Corvette will have Jan Magnussen and Antonio García in the #73 and Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the #74. There has been no announcement on Corvettes third drivers. Ryan Briscoe and Robin Liddell were third drivers at Daytona. Briscoe may have a conflict with the Le Mans test day and his IndyCar schedule.

Viper has Rob Bell listed for the #93 and Jeroen Bleekmolen for the #94. Bell ran with Kuno Wittmer and Jonathan Bomarito at Daytona. Bleekmolen ran a Viper GT3 in the GTD class at Daytona. The other Viper third driver at Daytona was Ryan Hunter-Reay who ran with Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goossens.

GTE-Am will have sixteen entries. Fabien Barthez is listed as driver in the #58 Ferrari for Team Sofrev ASP. Barthez was the starting goalkeeper for France when they won the 1998 World Cup on home soil. Patrick Dempsey is listed for the #77 Dempsey Racing-Proton Porsche 911 RSR. Aston Martin has a third factory entry for GTE-Am with Richie Stanaway listed for the #98 Vantage.

Nissan occupies the Garage 56 spot and will run their #0 ZEOD RC hybrid with Lucas Ordóñez listed as a driver.

Saveedra To KV Racing With AFS As Sponsor
Sebastián Saavedra will follow fellow-Sebastian (though different spellings) Sébastien Bourdais to KV Racing after teaming at Dragon Racing in 2013. Savaadra will drive the #17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Chevrolet. Automatic Fire Sprinklers are better known as AFS and were a prominent sponsor of Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights for many years, sponsoring drivers such as JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Wade Cunningham, Raphael Matos, Martin Plowman and Saavedra himself. Saavedra tested for the team at Sonoma yesterday.

Saavedra brings the unofficial 2014 IndyCar entry list up to twenty full-time entries. Saavedra is the tenth announced Chevrolet entry. Ganassi will run four cars with Penkse running three, KV running two and Ed Carpenter Racing one.

Honda has ten entries announced as well. Andretti Autosport leads with four cars, Schmidt Peterson Hamilton have announced two cars with Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Foyt, Fisher-Hartman and Coyne all having one entry announced at this time.

Optimistically speaking, there could be as many as four more open seats to run full-time in 2014. It is believed now that RLLR has announced that they will have National Guard sponsorship they are close to a second car. Coyne normally fields a second car and Bryan Herta Autosport has still yet to announced their driver for 2014. The only Chevrolet team yet to announced a driver is Panther Racing. Panther have been testing Colombian Carlos Huertas this winter.

A sample of drivers who competed in 2013 and have yet to be announced for a ride in 2014 are Oriol Servià, Simona de Silvestro, Conor Daly, Luca Filippi, J.R. Hildebrand, James Jakes, EJ Viso and Tristan Vautier. It appears Vautier and Viso are moving on to sports cars.

Racer Magazine's Marshall Pruett is reporting we will fine out Simona de Silvestro's plans for 2014 tomorrow.

Sage Karam has a scholarship after winning the Indy Lights championship but has no ride lined up. Karam could reportedly become a development driver for Chip Ganassi and drive a second car in United SportsCar Championship with Marino Franchitti. Jack Hawksworth has tested an IndyCar for RLLR and Dale Coyne Racing in recent months.

Alex Tagliani recently announced he will be driving in NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. Tagliani ran the series in 2007 and 2008 while he didn't have a ride in IndyCar after reunification. He won his only NCATS race at Edmonton in 2008. He also competed for Rocketsports Racing in the PC class at the 24 Hours of Daytona.

IndyCar media day is scheduled for next Tuesday in Orlando, Florida. The official preseason test is scheduled for March 17-18th at Barber Motorsports Park.

Abt Sportsline Names Formula E Drivers
The German-based Abt Sportsline announced their two drivers for the 2014-15 Formula E season. Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt will compete for the team in the electric-based series. Abt Sportsline runs an Audi DTM team for drivers Mattias Ekström, Miguel Molina, Edoardo Mortara and Adrien Tambay.

Di Grassi drives for Audi in WEC while Daniel joins the team run by his father Hans-Jürgen. The first round of the Formula E championship will take place September 13, 2014 in Beijing.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Let's Not Reinvent The Wheel With Indianapolis 500 Qualifying

We are all expecting changes to Indianapolis 500 qualifying this year. It's the worst kept secret in the series right now.

Is the change necessary? We already know the television windows that ABC will broadcast qualifying and it all but confirms changes are coming. Most likely pole position will be set Sunday with the fast nine format and Saturday becomes bump day as rows four through eleven are set.

Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 has been set up for two story lines for each day, who is on pole and who isn't going to make the field. Sadly, recent rule changes, lack of sponsors, lack of teams, lack of equipment and sheer lack of interest has seen bumping on the verge of extinction just like the amur leopard.

Qualifying's reduction to one storyline has made pole day the only one worth turning to and Sunday practice only once the nine remaining positions are filled. By flipping pole day and bump day, the story one Saturday would become who can make the top nine while Sunday is all about pole position. While it is understandable, are people really going to be dying to see who is going to be ninth come Saturday at 6:00 p.m.?

It's not the same as the fight for 33rd. If you don't make the top nine and say are stuck in twelfth, you are still in the field, still in top half of the grid, you're fine. But that fight for making the field, it's do or die. Succeed and you have a shot to make history. Fail and make sure the lazy boy is clear or, if it's too painful, make plans to go to a movie or on a long hike in the woods, far from civilization. It's the difference between a payday of at least $250,000 or a deep, red hole that is the debt incurred from running an IndyCar program.

The immediate mothballing of previous chassis and engines is one of the cause of the problem. Sure the last Dallara chassis (IR-03/05) wasn't the prettiest thing to every make a lap at Indianapolis but who would be against seeing five or six those in line to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with a level of balance of performance set by IndyCar that would ensure we'd see a half dozen cars trying to bump their way into the field?

Of course IndyCar has adopted a formula that is twin-turbocharged, 2.2 liter, V6 engines which is fine. But we have seen balance of performance (BoP) be implemented in United SportsCars and while it is controversial, it is a page IndyCar should have considered for the first few seasons of the new car. The previous normally-aspirated Honda V8 engine could of had an air restrictor placed on it with some additional weight ballast added to the Dallara IR-03/05 chassis and maybe regulated a small fuel cell for the IR-03/05.

It would be nice to see IndyCar open up the rule book just a little bit and grandfather in the IR-03/05 for at least Indianapolis and maybe the other Triple Crown races. It would also be nice to see Dallara offer a package for teams that want to retrofit a current V6 engine into the IR-03/05. After all, wasn't Indianapolis known for and aren't there some who are clamoring for the days of "run what you brung?" In my opinion, if a team showed up with an IR-05 chassis and a retrofitted Chevrolet V6, then let them have a go. The chassis is approved by IndyCar and so is the engine. And we know the IR-03/05 had a stellar track record when it came to safety with only one fatality (Dan Wheldon) in over a decade of competition and a few back injuries.

Of course here is where BoP would have to come into play. Would you require the older car run a little extra weight? Or maybe run with a smaller fuel cell? Or a combination of both? Some wouldn't like that but at the same time giving those who run the current chassis and engine competition an advantage wouldn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, I think we can all deal with a little BoP if it meant a half dozen cars trying to bump their way into the field and everyone holding their breathe as the final gun sounds to close Indianapolis 500 qualifying.

And for those fearing a previous generation chassis winning the Indianapolis 500, remember Al Unser's fourth Indianapolis 500 victory was in a year-old car that was a hotel show car a few weeks prior to getting on track for qualifying and over twenty-five years later we call it one of the greatest upsets in motorsports history.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ferrari Wins Bathurst 12 Hour

A race-record 296 laps completed wasn't the only record set at the end of the Bathurst 12 Hour. The race ended with the closest margin of victory at 0.4138 seconds between first and second and just over three seconds covering the top four.

A late caution bunched up the cars on the lead lap but the the fight in the end was between the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3. Craig Lowndes was able to hold off the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series champion Maximilian Buhk and add a Bathurst 12 Hour victory to his résumé of five Bathurst 1000 victories, three Australian Touring Car/V8 Supercars championships and nearly one hundred career wins.

Joining Lowndes on the top step of the podium were John Bowe, Mika Salo and Peter Edwards. Bowe stands alone now as the all-time leader in Bathurst 12 Hour victories with this being his third. His first victory came in 1995 and was the most recent Australian to win the event in 2010. This is Edwards and Salo first victory in the event and Salo becomes the first non-German European driver to win the event. This is Ferrari's first Bathurst 12 Hour victory and ends a four-year run of German manufactures winning the event.

Joining Buhk in second are 2013 Bathurst 12 Hour winner Thomas Jäger and Swiss driver Harold Primat. The #63 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes of Will Davison, Jack Le Brocq and Greg Crick rounded out the podium. The #37 VIP Holdings McLaren MP4-12C GT3 was up front all day and looked to be in great position to take the victory before falling to fourth position with a driver line-up of Shane van Gisbergen, Tony Quinn, Klark Quinn and Andrew Kirkaldy. The #3 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra GT3 of Rahel Frey, René Rast and Laurens Vanthoor finished fifth, the final car on the lead lap.

The #25 United Autosport Audi of Markus Winkelhock, Mark Patterson and Eric Lux finished sixth, two laps down. The defending race winning #1 Erebus Mercedes of Bernd Schneider, Maro Engel and Nico Bastian finished five laps back in seventh after having to go to the garage while leading to replace their brakes with under four hours to go.

The Class B winning #4 Grove Group Porsche 997 GT3 Cup of Earl Bamber, Stephen Grove and Ben Barker finished eighth overall, two laps ahead of ninth overall and second in Class B #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche of David Calvert-Jones, Patrick Long and Alex Davison. The #9 Class Network Clothing/Hallmarc Audi of Marc Cini, Mark Eddy and two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner Christopher Mies rounded out the top ten.

Class C was won by the #54 Donut King Lotus Exige Cup R of Tony Alford, Peter Leemhuis and Mark O'Connor. They finished twenty-fifth overall.

The #22 GT Radial/ Radio Hauraki SEAT León Supercopa of Richard Billington, Lewis Scott and Stuart Owens won Class D by finishing sixteenth overall.

The non-production Class I, the #70 MARC Focus GT of Grant Denyer, Adam Gowens and Garry Jacobson won the class and finished fifteenth overall.

In the invitational Class F, the #96 Fiat Abarth 500 of Luke Youlden, Paul Gover, Gregory Hede and Mike Sinclair took victory with an eighteenth place finish overall.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Half Way Through Bathurst 12 Hour

The #1 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 has been up front for nearly the entire race but it has a tough challenger in the #37 VIP Holdings McLaren MP4-12C GT3.

The two teams have been neck-and-neck for the last few hours with the two cars getting into a great battle at the top of the Mount Panorama Circuit when Bernd Schneider and Shane van Gisbergen were behind the wheel of the respective cars. Nico Bastian is currently behind the wheel of the #1 and  made a great save after sliding off course at the top of the circuit. Andrew Kirkaldy is in the #37.

The #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Mika Salo is in third. Laurens Vanthoor is fourth in the #3 Phoenix Racing Audi but that car did have a brief electrical problem. The #9 Network Clothing/Hallmarc Audi R8 LMS Ultra is running fifth with Marc Cini behind the wheel.

 The #25 United Autosport Audi of Markus Winkelhock is sixth. The #63 Erebus Mercedes is seventh with Greg Crick behind the wheel. The #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes of Thomas Jäger is eighth.

The top Class B car was the #45 Rencorp Hyundai Forklifts Porsche 997 GT3 Cup of Duvashen Padayachee before he had an off and lost the class lead. The #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche of Alex Davison leads Class B, ninth overall.  The #4 Grove Group Porsche of Ben Barker is tenth and second in Class B. Padayachee dropped to eleventh and third in class before going off course again and beaching the car in the sand trip causing a safety car.

Some notable retirements include the #23 JBS Swift Lamborghini Gallardo whose day ended on lap five after hitting a kangaroo. The #14 Oakley Motorsports Audi R8 LMS had a engine problem drop them out of the race while leading Class B. The one major accident involved the #32 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 and the #33 Clearwater Racing Ferrari at the top of the circuit. The #33 of Hiroshi Hamaguachi was leaking fluid and spun, creating a massive dust cloud. Katsumasa Cyio had nowhere to go and the backend of the Nissan collided with the Ferrari.

One hundred and forty-four laps have been completed at halfway.

Latvala Wins Rally Sweden, Takes Points Lead

It wasn't a challenging day for Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn won the first four stages on the final day of Rally Sweden and cruised to his first victory of the 2014 World Rally Championship season by 53.6 seconds over his Volkswagen teammate Andreas Mikkelsen. By winning stage seventeen, Latvala reached three hundred stage wins in his World Rally career.

Mikkelsen held off a hard fought charge from his fellow Norwegian Mads Østberg for second with 5.9 seconds separating them in the end. Østberg did win the power stage and picked up three more points while Latvala took second on the power stage and Mikko Hirvonen finished third on the power stage and finished fourth overall, nearly two and a half minutes back of Latvala.

Ott Tänak finished fifth in his first rally of the season, just over three minutes back of Latvala. Sébastien Ogier recovered from a disastrous start on day three to finish sixth. Henning Solberg finished seventh ahead of the top Swede Pontus Tidemand in eighth. Irishman Craig Breen finished ninth on his season debut. Northern Irish driver Kris Meeke rounded out the points in tenth.

Robert Kubica rally went from bad to worse on stage twenty when another snow bank caught the Polish driver. He would finish twenty-fourth. Hyundai restarted today after both Thierry Neuville and Juho Hänninen had front right issues on day three. Hänninen finished nineteenth with Neuville in twenty-eighth.

This is Latvala's third Rally Sweden victory and his ninth career rally victory. The Finn has forty points and takes a five point lead over Ogier with the win and second on the power stage. Østberg moves up to third in the points, ten back of Latvala. Mikkelsen moves up to fourth, six points back of fellow Norwegian Østberg. Bryan Bouffier is fifth with eighteen points despite not competing in Sweden. Meeke drops to sixth. Hirvonen's fourth place finish puts his seventh on the championship table with thirteen points. Fellow M-Sport Ford drivers Tänak and Elfyn Evans take the next two positions. The Estonian Tänak jumped Evans in the standings after the Welshman retired. Henning Solberg's seventh place finish puts him tenth in points with six points.

The next round of the World Rally Championship takes place across the Atlantic with the teams heading to Rally Mexico March 6-9th.

Bathurst 12 Hour: Starting Grid

Today marks first major event of the Australian motorsports season, the Bathurst 12 Hour from the legendary Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst, Australia.

The #1 Erebus Motorsports Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 starts from pole position and are the defending race winners but the only driver returning from the 2013 winning team is Bernd Schneider. He will be joined by fellow Germans, V8 Supercars and former DTM driver Maro Engel and Nico Bastian, who will start the race. The #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari F458 Italia GT3 will start second with five-time Bathurst 1000 winner Craig Lowndes starting behind the wheel. He is joined by two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner, two-time Bathurst 1000 winner and 1995 V8 Supercars champion John Bowe, Ferrari stalwart Mika Salo and Peter Edwards.

The #37 VIP Holdings McLaren MP4-12C GT3 starts third with 2008 Dubai 24 Hour winners Tony Quinn and Klark Quinn being joined by Andrew Kirkaldy and late-addition V8 Supercars Shane van Gisbergen. The #63 Erebus Motorsports Mercedes of 2009 Bathurst 1000 winner Will Davison, Jack Le Brocq and Greg Crick starts fourth with the #32 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 of two-time Bathurst 1000 winner and 2006 V8 Supercars champion Rick Kelly, Katsumasa Cyio, Alex Buncombe and Wolfgang Reip rounding out the top five.

The top Class B car is the #23 Lamborghini Gallardo of Peter Kox, Roger Laog and David Russell starting sixth. Audis occupy the next three positions with two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner Christopher Mies being joined by Marc Cini and Mark Eddy in the #9 Network Clothing/Hallmarc R8-LMS Ultra. Belgian Laurens Vanthoor will start the #3 Phoneix Racing Audi from eighth position and is joined by German René Rast and Swiss Rahel Frey. The Anglo-American #23 United Autosport Audi of Mark Patterson, Eric Lux and Markus Winkelhock start ninth. Rounding out the top ten is the #48 M Motorsport Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 of three-time and defending Bathurst 1000 winner Steven Richards being joined by Justin McMillan, Dale Wood and Ross Lilley.

Other notable drivers competing in the once-around-the-clock race down under are Oliver Gavin and Rob Huff (#14 Oakley Racing Audi R8 LMS), Earl Bamber (#4 Grove Group Porsche 997 GT3 Cup) and Alex Davison and Patrick Long (#12 Competition Motorsports Porsche). All these drivers are competing in Class B.

Coverage of the Bathurst 12 Hour can be found online at 2:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 2:15 p.m. ET.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Latvala Takes Rally Sweden Lead; Ogier Falls After Disastrous First Stage

Volkswagen retained the lead after day three of Rally Sweden, but they saw a change of drivers at the top.

Jari-Matti Latvala won stage eight by 5.8 seconds over teammate Andreas Mikkelsen but the bigger story was the defending world champion and rally leader entering the day Sébastien Ogier getting stuck in a snow bank and losing 4 minutes and 30.5 seconds on that stage.

Ogier would recover to win six of the remaining eight stages on day three and finishing second in the other two stages but could only get up to ninth position, 3 minutes and 38.4 seconds back of his teammate.

Latvala bookended the day winning stage sixteen, a half second over Ogier. The Finn leads Mikkelsen by 3.6 seconds overall. Norwegian Mads Østberg currently rounds out the podium, forty-three seconds back. Mikko Hirvonen is fourth, top M-Sport Ford driver. He is a minute and 2.7 seconds back of his fellow Finn Latvala with his teammate Ott Tänak six seconds back of him in fifth position.

Kris Meeke is over two and a half minutes back of the leader in sixth with stage eleven winner Henning Solberg in seventh position, 15.8 seconds back of the Northern Irish driver. Pontus Tidemand is the top Swede, currently eighth, 1.4 seconds back of Solberg. Ogier is ninth, fifty seconds back of Tidemand with Elfyn Evans rounding out the top ten.

Robert Kubica dropped from eleventh place, 59.9 seconds back to twenty-ninth over twenty-four minutes back. The Polish driver lost nearly six minutes on stage twelve and stage fourteen and is over twenty-four minutes back of Latvala.

Hyundai's second rally back has been better than the first but still difficult. Thierry Neuville had front right wheel carrier damage end his day early on stage eight while Juho Hänninen also had a front right issue end his day on stage twelve. Both cars will restart tomorrow for the final day. Hänninen is thirtieth a minute and 20.1 seconds back of Kubica. Neuville is in last, over forty-four minutes and thirty-seven seconds back of Latvala.

The final day of Rally Sweden will feature eight stages beginning at 1:55 a.m. ET.

Pairing Motorsports Personalities With Beatles' Songs

It was fifty years ago today, The Beatles landed in the United States and this country and music has never been the same since. In honor of such a historic day, I have taken a couple dozen Beatles songs and paired them with personalities throughout motorsports from drivers to team managers; Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, MotoGP and every series in-between.

Some are these are simple connects, others are more of a stretch but this is all for fun. Enjoy!

"You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)"- Jimmie Johnson
We all know Jimmie Johnson but for a six-time champion, he lacks the respect from most fans. When his career comes to an end, despite all the gripes about the championship format and the amount of times his car failed inspection, all you have to do is look at the numbers and right now they say six-time champion, 66 victories, 182 top-fives, 272 top-tens, 32 pole positions and he has finished in the top-five in points all but one time in his career to date. How about those numbers?

"I Am The Walrus"- Sebastian Vettel
The man has won four consecutive World Drivers' Championships and has been unstoppable, just like a walrus. Many have tried to dethrone the German but have failed. Now, that might all change this year with the recent troubles Red Bull and Renault have been having but until the first race, as they say in German, "Er ist das Wolruss. goo goo g'joob."

"Drive My Car"- Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon is the type of driver where you can put him behind the wheel of any vehicle and he will find a way to the front. Whether it be an IndyCar or sports car, Dixon is quick and it wouldn't surprise me that if in equal equipment with the likes of Vettel, Johnson and the other great drivers around the world, Dixon came up on top. This is why we need IROC to return and it to be taken seriously by all sanctioning bodies.

"Hey Bulldog"- Lewis Hamilton
The 2008 world champion's dog has a Twitter account. Conveniently, Roscoe is a bulldog so that made it easy when pairing.

"The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"- Will Power
Bill, Will. Another easy pair but it's more than that. The continuing story of Will Power's career has had him on the door step of the title for many years. He is bound to break through and get a title and after ending 2013 on a high note, he seems more motivated than ever to win the title this season.

"You Won't See Me"- Kevin Harvick
How many times have you watched a NASCAR race and the first time you hear Kevin Harvick's name is when he is taking the lead with five laps to go and pull off another victory? It's bound to happen at least three times a season.

"Got To Get You Into My Life"- Kyle Larson
The next big thing is heading to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2014 but in all actuality he is a driver you want to drive anything. Some (Robin Miller) think he could hop into an IndyCar and become the series great hope for the future. He has already won many races on dirt from Eldora to Belleville to Chico not to mention he got his first taste at sports car last month at the Rolex 24. His future is bright. Let's hope Ganassi doesn't ruin it.

"Hey Mister Postman"- Denny Hamlin and Ryan Hunter-Reay
They are sponsored by Fedex and DHL respectively. It makes sense.

"Here, There and Everywhere"- Roger Penske
Whether it be a NASCAR race, IndyCar race or when he was running Porsches in ALMS, Penske is always at the race track. And soon, he may be down in Australia, standing on the pit wall for V8 Supercars events.

"Act Naturally"- James Hinchcliffe
The Canadian is arguably IndyCar's top personality. He doesn't have to try to be fun or engaging. You never hear Hinchcliffe get bad-mouthed. He let's his emotions show when he is frustrated and when he is on top and every fan respects that.

"All Together Now"- Audi Sport Team Joest
The German team has dominated the world of sports car racing for over than a decade and it's one for all, all for one with the four-rings. Everything is done for the team as a whole. You don't see drivers let their self interest get in the way at Audi and that's part of the reason for their success for so long.

"The Ballad of John and Yoko"- Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen
Keep an eye on Ferrari. When Alonso last had this high profile teammate it was Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007 and we saw how that turned out. Räikkönen didn't return to Ferrari to run number two. But I also think Alonso has matured since 2007. Maybe his ego isn't as large as it was seven years ago but if it isn't, 2014 might become the more interesting season for Ferrari since 1982.

"I Want You (She's So Heavy)- All Those F1 Drivers Watching Their Weight
At the end of last year, drivers' weight limits became a big story. This song goes out to the likes of Jenson Button, Mark Webber (though he isn't in Formula One any more), Nico Hülkenberg, Giedo van der Garde and Paul di Resta, burly men who are held to supermodel expectations.

"Yellow Submarine"- Johnny Rutherford
Lone Star JR won three Indianapolis 500s. But this song is dedicated to him and the machine that dominated the race in 1980.

"Baby You're a Rich Man"- Marc Márquez
The Spaniard is the youngest world riders' champion and became the first rookie to win the title since 1978. He still isn't 21 and after his recent three days of testing is making it appear as if a second consecutive title is a formality.

"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)"- Mads Østberg, Andreas Mikkelsen, Petter and Henning Solberg.
This goes out to the great Norwegians in World Rally. Petter Solberg won the title in 2003, a year before Sébastien Loeb went on his nine-year reign. His brother Henning has had a respectable World Rally career while Mads Østberg has a World Rally victory on his résumé. Andreas Mikkelsen's career is just beginning in World Rally and he is having a really good Rally Sweden. A win wouldn't be out of the question this year to go along with his two Intercontinental Rally Championships.

"When I'm Sixty-Four"- John Force
The face of drag racing in the United States if not the World is 64-years-old. He is coming off winning his sixteenth NHRA Funny Car title. No one would rule him out for a seventeenth.

"Ticket to Ride"- Tony Kanaan
After touring around the United States and Brazil looking for sponsors to keep his IndyCar career going for the last few years, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner finally has his "Ticket to Ride" if you will. No more worrying on bated breath going to midseason boardroom meetings hoping he can persuade someone things are going great this year and they should continue for another. Kanaan has one focus in 2014 and that is racing. Finally!

"Kansas City/ Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!"- Rick Mears
The four-time Indianapolis 500 winner hails from Wichita but he is arguably the top driver from Kansas (Johnny Rutherford and Rodger Ward have a case). It's a fitting coincidence there are four "heys."

"Taxman"- Gene Haas
The man who shares a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team and is looking to Formula One served a 24-month prison sentence after filling false tax returns among other charges. Anyone find it ironic Quickens Loans sponsored Ryan Newman when he was at Stewart-Haas Racing.

"Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!"- Jimmy Kite
He might not have been the greatest driver to show up at 16th and Georgetown but he did finish eleventh in his Indianapolis 500 debut. He did pick up four career top tens during the heart of the CART-IRL split but they are top tens nonetheless and his final top ten was a tenth at Kentucky in 2005 where he finished ahead of Scott Dixon (electrical), Tony Kanaan (suspension), Dario Franchitti (wheel bearing), Bryan Herta (gearbox), Danica Patrick (many laps down), Buddy Rice (one lap down) and Ryan Briscoe (on the lead lap).

"Savoy Truffle"- Dario Franchitti
The retired Scotsman was treated nicely when he was in hospital. Chocolate croissants (a kryptonite of mine) and country fried steak were a staple of his diet. The good news is he doesn't have to go to great lengths to keep his weight down. A chocolate croissant here-and-there won't be bad but every day will put the pounds on. That is coming from experience. Delicious but self-deprecating experience.

"Michelle"- Simon Pagenaud
The only Beatles' song with French lyrics. In honor it goes to a Frenchman. I could of paired this song with any French driver. Sébastien Bourdais. Sébastien Loeb. Sébastien Ogier. Tristan Vautier. Jules Bianchi. But I am giving Pagenaud his due. In equal equipment against the field of Frenchmen, I would put money on Pagenaud.

"She's Leaving Home"- Simona de Silvestro
INDYCAR FANS READ THIS CAREFULLY!: There is a good chance Simona de Silvestro does not return to IndyCar in 2014. Things aren't looking bright. There are fewer and fewer seats remaining and there are close to a dozen drivers looking for rides and quality drivers are going to be on the outside whether we like it or not. De Silvestro very well could end up on the sideline. Prepare yourselves. It's going to be difficult to accept but it's just part of motorsports. Some drivers gets squeezed out too soon.

"Any Time At All"- Ryan Briscoe
Briscoe gets a lot of flack, especially around IndyCar circles but his résumé is one of the deepest on the grid. Along with his IndyCar escapades he has been a Formula One test driver, drove a ChampCar,  LMP2 in ALMS at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Daytona Prototypes, V8 Supercars, A1GP and most recently drove a factory Corvette at the 24 Hours of Daytona.

"If I Needed Someone"- Justin Wilson
Justin Wilson has arguably been the most disrespected driver in motorsports who has competed in the same series for more than five consecutive years. I am not sure what he has to do get a big breakthrough but he is taking matters into his own hands turning Dale Coyne Racing into one of the top teams in 2013. If I had a billion dollars fall into my lap, Wilson would be one of the first drivers I would call.

"Don't Let Me Down"- Second Generation Drivers
You can't be envious of the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and now Chase Elliott and John Hunter Nemechek due to the pressure to emulate their fathers. It is never fair for fans to expect a driver to carry on the legacy of their fathers both in success and mannerism. Let them be their own personalities. If they surpassing their fathers in terms of wins, championships and than some, good for them. If they have moderate success and only ever have one or two legitimate seasons where they were championship contenders than that is fine as well. I feel at times we at fans are asking for too much from these drivers and should relax.

"Paperback Writer"- Alex Lloyd
Once the future of IndyCar at Chip Ganassi Racing, Alex Lloyd has been a forgotten driver. He found success in IndyCar despite running for Dale Coyne Racing when they were a midpack team with the previous Dallara chassis. Lloyd has found a second career writing for Yahoo Autos. I wish he got more opportunities behind the wheel of the car and who is to say he couldn't make a comeback in a few years? I also think Lloyd could make a great commentator and if he doesn't have a ride, maybe ABC should give him the seat next to Allen Bestwick in the booth. He has recent experience in IndyCar and, if you follow him on Twitter, he isn't afraid to let his opinion be known.

"Doctor Robert"- Robert Kubica
Unfortunately Robert Kubica's career has been known more for the accidents that have kept him on the sidelines. The good news he is racing in the World Rally Championship. He may never get behind a Formula One car again but at least he is back to competing full-time.

"What Goes On"- Brian France and John Barnes
What goes on in their minds? With all the changes with the Chase-format, I have to believe his wife does all the shopping because Brian France can't make up his mind. As for John Barnes, he had one of the largest budgets in all of IndyCar with the National Guard sponsorship but won zero races. Four straight runner-up finishes in the Indianapolis 500 is an accomplishment but other than that, the team has done next to nothing.

"I Should Have Known Better"- Takuma Sato
You know Takuma Sato is a fast driver but he is an accident waiting to happen. He can get a win for you but then string together seven consecutive race outside the top twenty. Is he worth the hire?

"Two of Us"- Ed Carpenter and Mike Conway
These two are pairing up with Carpenter doing ovals and Conway doing road and street courses. Not only will each be a threat in their own disciplines but who knows? They could string together results good enough to win the owners' championship, for whatever that is worth.

"Getting Better"- Caterham and Marussia
It couldn't get much worse for them though.

"Get Back"- Sam Hornish, Jr. and AJ Allmendinger
Hornish especially. What are you doing? You know you deserve better than seven Nationwide Series races. I know the money in NASCAR is fantastic and it's a challenge but where are you going? Are those seven races really going to get you anything more than a Nationwide ride? Look at Elliott Sadler. Do you really think he thought he would be in the Nationwide Series for three seasons and still not have gotten another full-time Cup ride?

I know you say you have accomplished everything there is in IndyCar but what would really be better for your career, one win in a Nationwide race filling in for Kyle Busch or winning a second Indianapolis 500? Yes I know it isn't a given you will be handed an IndyCar ride and the fact you will have to bring money for a ride is a turn off for you but I am sure there is a good car out their for you to make a comeback and by the end of that first season back you will probably be on the doorstep of where you were when you left.

As for Allmendinger, you have had better success in NASCAR than Hornish but you showed promise when driving for Penske. It was as if you had never left. You nearly won the Indianapolis 500. JTG Daugherty Racing isn't a bad team but where are you going?

"Don't Pass Me By"- Oriol Servià
Oriol Servià is one of those drivers who are always quick but never gets the full recognition he deserves. Now that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has the National Guard sponsorship, maybe he gets a full-time ride.

"In My Life"- To all those we have lost
Many drivers have passed on. Sometimes their presences is missed more than others but we should be at least proud of the time we got to share with them on this Earth and hopefully we will join them one day at The Great Racetrack in the Sky.

"Money (That's What I Want)"- Every single driver, from the mountain top of Formula One to the six-year old that is starting karting
Every driver wants money. They want it to keep their careers going, dreams alive and to keep them from having to get an everyday job like me. It doesn't matter what series you are aiming at. Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, WTCC, Le Mans Prototypes, the top of GT racing, sprint cars, late models, rally, every driver needs to find that paycheck to keep going. And there is no such thing as enough in motorsports.

And one that note, I will wrap up this post. I'd like to thank you for reading and I hope I've passed the audition.